The Relative Decline after Vasco da Gama Circumnavigation
Most historians agree not only on the peak of Ragusa’s economic glory days coming in the second half of the 16th century1, but also on the long-term causes of the decline: a shift of economic dynamism to Western Europe (Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, England, France), and the related the opening of the Cape of Good Hope route to Eastern markets. The gradual decline is reflected in values for population (Figure 5.1), GDP per capita (Figure 5.2), number and capacity of ships (Figure 5.3 and Figure 5.4). This affected not only Ragusa, but the Italian city-states as well, and for Venice as we see in some of the same figures, in particular on shipping activity. For Venice, Lane (1973, pp. 384–386) refers to this as “The Collapse.” Our quantitative evidence does not contradict the existence of a relative decline. The data suggest that this decline was not an immediate one. Indeed, during the early development of western fleets’ trading in the East, after Vasco da Gama had established a colony in India in 1503, and the first spices had been brought to Europe by Portuguese ships in 1506, it is clear from Figures 5.3 and 5.4 that Ragusan shipping capacity continued to expand for 70 some years. Actually, Carter (1972)2 and Lane (1933)3 both claim that Venice and Ragusa recovered their Levantine trade after the initial shock of the Portuguese entry.
KeywordsRelative Decline Initial Shock Maritime Activity Maritime Insurance Atlantic Trade
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